nature, plastic, pollution, sustainability, waste

There’s a Fraction too Much Plastic

There’s a fraction too much plastic. Understatement of the year. Given plastic pollution’s current cult status, I’m getting on the bandwagon too. Through plastic’s convenience, especially in packaging and transporting food and other consumer items, it has charmed it’s way into becoming an integral part of daily life throughout the world. However, we often only use plastic items once before thoughtlessly discarding them, cluttering street sides and landfills, with plastic migrating to waterways and oceans and being ingested by birds and animals. Taking an incredibly long time to decompose (estimates I found ranged from 20 to 1000 years to never) and being highly toxic, the prevalence of plastic pollution is becoming problematic for people and nature alike.

Reflecting on why plastic pollution and waste seems to bother me so much, I wonder whether I am picking the right battle to fight. Living in a migrant community in Ranong, which is littered with many interconnected social and economic issues like health, human trafficking, child labour, poverty and discrimination, why am I so concerned about waste? Shouldn’t I instead focus on problems that directly affect people? I realise that I perceive waste as emblematic of our broken society, our shortsightedness, our ignorance and our inability to care about impacts outside our immediate realm.

Consciously trying to reduce plastic use and therefore plastic waste, can sometimes be an uphill battle. Sometimes you have to go out of your way to avoid plastic. Consistently avoiding single-use plastic while living in Thailand, is easier said than done, where my limited (but improving) Thai language skills are making it difficult for me to uphold my sustainable living desires. I conscientiously take reusable shopping bags to buy fruit, vegetables and eggs at the market, and through using elaborate hand gestures am sometimes successful at diverting my purchases from being swiftly whisked into plastic bags. More often than not I end up with unwanted plastic spoons, straws or complimentary plastic wrapped condiments.

Regular market excursions, tranposrting vegies home by bike reusing plastic bags

Despite my persistence in plastic avoidance techniques, I continue to accumulate more plastic. How much plastic though, I wasn’t sure. So, for the month of January, I thought I’d collect and photograph all the plastic I would throw out over the month. My year began with a motorcycle-minivan-bus- journey from nearby Khao Sok National Park back to Ranong. Travelling is never great for avoiding packaging, as often you have to eat and drink what you can find. This was no exception, with bottled water and lunch in a plastic container being my first plastic culprits.

My plastic clad purchases – mostly food!

Due to a lack of foresight I forgot I’d be travelling home to New Zealand for ten days during January, so have only collected 19 days worth of plastic thus far. Now I’ve returned to Thailand, I’m recommencing plastic collecting for a further 12 days to make up 31 days of the month.

Here’s what I’ve amassed so far:

5 yoghurt containers, 3 takeaway containers, 2 straws (plus several more I didn’t keep), 1 toothbrush, 1 face wash container, 2 bread bags, 2 cotton buds, 10 miscellaneous plastic packages, 2 plastic bags (plus several more which I’ve reused), 1 water bottle plus lid and plastic wrapping, 1 plastic spoon

I feel a little disheartened when I see the amount of plastic I’ve accumulated in such a short period of time, particularly as I know there are some situations I could have approached differently, or which may have been different were I living in a different country. I eat out more and often packaged food is the only thing available. My aim is not to be discouraged however, but to learn and develop ways of reducing plastic use and therefore waste. I hope that by displaying my plastic waste you’ll be able to consider yours and what you might be able to change I your lifestyle. It is clear to me though, that reducing plastic pollution will not only require changes to lifestyles and individual behaviours, but also the systems within which we live. I look forward to sharing the final 12 days of ‘January’ with you.

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